How crooks smuggle heroin to Europe

Tuesday July 10 2018

Drug Trafficking Patterns to and from Eastern Africa. SOURCE | UNODC


East Africa’s coastline is increasingly being used by drug traffickers as a route for shipment of heroin to Western Europe from Afghanistan through Pakistan.

The illicit trade is blamed on the integration in the southern maritime route used by traffickers as the land based Balkan way to Western Europe has become difficult to use owing to conflict and increased law enforcement.

Enhancing Africa’s response to Transnational Organised Crime (ENACT) — an international project to fight transnational crime — said illegal drug flows are increasingly diverted by sea to East Africa where monitoring movements is difficult for police.

ENACT’s research shows that the heroin trade supports political leaders and parties across the globe, and called for new policy approaches to adequately address the relationship between politics, business and organised crime.

Africa’s eastern seaboard from Somali, Kenya and Tanzania down to Mozambique and South Africa, has numerous sites for for landing illegal cargo before heroin is shipped to Europe.

ENACT, which is hosted by the Pretoria-based Institute of Security Studies (ISS) estimates that 40 tonnes of heroin transits through the region annually and five tonnes remain behind although actual volumes could be higher.


Most of the heroin that passes through East and South Africa is destined for markets in Europe where it is more profitable.

A gramme of heroin costs about $20, $60 and $213 in Kenya in United Kingdom and Denmark respectively.

National politics

Heroin plays a role in local and national politics on eastern seaboard of Africa, forming an integrated regional criminal economy with a spin-off trade for local usage based on transit narcotics from Afghanistan to Europe.

“Up to now, the focus has been on how heroin shipped along the southern route reaches Europe,” said Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime (GI TOC) senior analyst Simone Haysom.

Ms Haysom said this perspective downplays the impact of the trade on transit countries, which has seen the East African market become integrated with global illicit business by relying on political elites’ protection.

Heroin begins its journey in Afghanistan, where farmers cultivate the poppy plant over hundreds of thousands of acres. Opium paste derived from poppy seeds is transported to Pakistan, where it is refined into heroin.

‘The Southern route, which encompasses a number of states bordering Indian Ocean, has linkages to countries in the interior of Africa. This enables heroin to filter into landlocked countries such as Uganda, South Sudan and Burundi.

Ms Haysom said the study on southern route found that African drug networks have representatives in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province, who are involved in moving heroin to Balochistan coast.

“Heroin is ferried by speedboat and loaded onto dhows that travel from Iran where there is a fuel subsidy,” she said in a report titled “The heroin coast A political economy along the eastern African seaboard.”


The study for ENACT was done by jointly by Ms Haysom and GI TOC director Mark Shaw and GI TOC senior adviser Peter Gastrow.

ENACT analyses the effects of organised crime on stability, governance and the rule of law.

ENACT which also analyses crimes effects on development in Africa and works to mitigates impact, is implemented by ISS and International Criminal Police Organisation.

In towns along the eastern seaboard of Africa, from Kismayu to Cape Town, the heroin trade is embedded in local communities and linked to political elites.

It has taken advantage of weak checks and state institutions. The illicit economy in which heroin plays a key part has driven rampant property speculation in Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam city.

Heroin trade also has a strong relationship with the finances of multi-party democracies.

Kenya has “multipolar competition” as traffickers have either campaigned directly for political office or have links to political interests. There is stiff competition among a spectrum of players as no single group dominates.

Ms Haysom said after Kenya’s transition to multi-party democracy, drug dealers began to fund actors across political spectrum to secure their trade.

Money laundering distorts the market for other entrepreneurs who find it hard to compete with businesses that have slush funds and do not need to turn a profit.

In hubs at the centre of illicit heroin trade stand many half-completed or glitzy but empty hotels in Mozambique.

Nampula town’s recent property boom led to new supermarkets, buildings, hotels, gueshouses, restaurants and bars.

“Many hotels consistently operate at 30 or 40 per cent capacity. The same phenomenon is apparent along the Kenyan Coast around Mombasa. It is damaging to the business prospects of legitimate entrepreneurs,” said Mr Shaw.

Cities with big consumer markets like Mombasa, Cape Town, Pretoria and Johannesburg are beset with violence associated with the drug trade. In Mombasa local gangs protecting heroin barons have mushroomed.

“In the midst of widespread impunity for the people who organise and profit from the drug trade, lynching of drug users by anti-crime vigilante groups has also become commonplace,” said ENACT’s research report.

In Kenya, about 55,000 people inject heroin into the veins, a method that carries the highest health risks while Tanzania over 32,000 and South Africa over 75,000.

The number of people smoking heroin is much higher.

In most of these countries, the rate of HIV infection among people who inject drugs are several times higher than those among the rest of population.